Niiiiiiiiiiikel maps & wayfinding
Kola Super Deep map and wayfinding project
This is the second part of the global project on branding Nikel. Monotown in the North of Russia with all typical characteristics of an industry-dependent locality. After the historic smelting plant had been closed in 2020 permanently, the life in the town changed dramaticaly. While one part of the community praised the closing of long outdated unecological production, the others were worried on where to work and left Nikel which raised a public outcry.

Client: Nornickel and the Second School

Work: map design, wayfinding, illustrations

With our help, the tourist idea had been developed, you can read about it here in details. The main idea was to create a friendly tone communication for the europeans that come from across Norway and Finland and feel lost without knowledge of the place. The first step was creating a wayfinding system, that consisted of unique and functional maps, based on the identity of the place and friendly wayfinding system.

Isn't exploring the far north the best family trip? Vadim, the local guide and awesome man, took us on a journey to every place we've made maps of.
Left-to-right: Igor Makovsky, Natalia Makovsky, Mark Makovsky (1yo) and Vadim Neganov on the coast of Sredny Peninsula
Map desiiiiiign
We started with experimenting on the map design. We wanted it to look uniquely volumetric and heavy like the surroundings we've met.
  • Ground tiering
    Active and abandoned quarries are everywhere. The tiering sides gave the place that special volumetric vibe.
  • Rocks and kerns
    Kerns (core samples) is like a symbol of the industrial mining operation history of the region came from the depths.
  • WW2 leftovers
    Hard to reach, cold, filled with rusty sleeves and industrial leftovers keep the memory of fierce confrontations took part during the WW2.
  • Soviet heritance
    Region has many closed towns that require visit permits, and abandoned war bases that look depressing and astounding at the same time.
Combined together, these 4 images gave us a few rules for the further design.
  • Tiering in 3d
    Use tiering low-poly 3d design for depicting height changes. It gives that special look to the maps, that make them unique.
  • Kerns as pins
    Everybody tired of typical pins. Cylinder kerns replace them and notify on points of interest.
  • Rough design
    Stabbed, sharp design and dusk color palette give heaviness, monolithic appearance to this masculine region that overcame many war events in the past.
  • Lack of details
    Art style lacks geographical precision intentionally for average tourist. This is due to the precense of the military in the frontier region.
Left-to-right: Nikel, Way to Scandinavia, Liinakhamari, Rybachy & Sredny Peninsulas
Important is that work began with collaborating with residents, who gave us clues and told about all what should be put on map. It makes our maps unique and. useful, close to the real life interests. We put every single point on the map and tried to gather more information on every one of them lately.
All the pins on the map had been added with the help of the local residents
Way to Scandinavia map
The main and the most complex map of all four. Includes the whole route starting in Murmansk, that used to be the main hero of the Niiikel brand: the way to Scandinavia. You can see how close Niiikel stands to Kirkenes and both Finland and Norway borders and find what's left from the Kola Super Deep Borehole.
The general "Way to Scandinavia" map that starts from Murmansk and ends in Finland and Norway
We love this map so much and it looks so awesome that we've created a special merch version of it, that looks even more astonishing. We called it a "polar night" version, check it out:
Polar night version of the "Way to Scandinavia" map
And the by-product of every tourist map we create is the set of merch that awaits the right moment and the right entrepreneur to produce the right merch with it:
This is where it all begins, the administrative center of the Pechenga district. After the closure of the smelting plant in 2020 and the leftovers of the extraction sites in 2023, Niiikel is planned to be heavily rebuilt in the next years. So you're probably observing the very first version of the map that will be redrawn for many times.
We got caried away with putting every single apartment house on the map, because it was important for the residents to capture them in the process of the total rebuilding process. Town surroundings are presented on the map also where a lot of new projects are planned to be built. In other words, context of Nikel was more important than the content inside. As was said earlier, we can say for sure, that this map would be redrawn with more changes to come and go.

Very nice Nikel tourist map that has is used now
Rybachy & Sredny Peninsulas
These two peninsulas are especially famous among travellers that come to Murmansk Oblast, maybe on the second place after Teriberka. Hard-to-reach, challenging to explore on the personal off-road vehicle, liberating, unforgettable. With the crunchy rust sounds made by endless bullets and shell casings leftovers under your feet, reminding of gruesome WW2 battles.
We had to make the map of the Peninsulas also, because most of the tourists do not even realise that both territories belong to the Pechenga District. Speaking of us, regional insight wouldn't be completed without visiting these two unforgettable territories.
Liinakhamari harbour is the the closed-for-entry frontier locality with rich history and unfreezing dock. Astonishing and totally immersive place hidden between rocks. Closed for entry without permits as of 2023, yet potentially a treasure for tourism. We've made a map of it in advance: those series of round cement turrel foundations look mesmerizing.
Like the general map, Liinakhamari worth admiring in "polar night" version:
Liinakhamari map, as seen during long polar nights
To add more functionality to the maps above, the whole wayfinding system had been developed for the tourists not to feel lost in the real world. First of all, the overall schematics of that "Way to Scandinavia" in one straight metro-like view.
Handy overview guide to show the Way to Scandinavia in all its glory 2d view
Wayfinding system is colorful, according to the northly bright design guidelines prescribed in Niiiikel brandbook. Vertical wooden bars remind the multiplied i from the logo and stand out on the monochromatic scenery.

Large amount of design variations are compensated by the single grid all the elements are being constructed on. That makes producing easier and it would be not so difficult to create more variations if needed.
Niiikel wayfinding design system
Worth paying attention to the way our communication talks with people. Most important here to be friendly, sympathetic, helpful and explaining.
Explain and be friendly when you want to help
  • Explain
    ❌ No entry
    ✅ Way is temporaly closed, demolition ahead, use this path instead.
  • Learn
    ❌ Do not feed birds
    ✅ When you feed birds here, you attract rats
  • Be friendly
    ❌ Road is closed
    ✅ Friends, there's no interesting ahead, just dull warehouse.
  • Be smart
    ❌ Attention! Path is closed!
    ✅ Attention! This is attention sign! Making the pathway good as new.
Autumn context — the brightest and most vivid period in Nikel. Imagine, that in winter they would be the brightest elements in the town for sure.
House plaques are more unified. White for the bright and dark facades, while the blue one are for the light ones. The doubled changes in size are made according to the differences in the distance between the viewer and the wall. More distance — larger size and vise versa.
Niiikel house plaques
All our maps are accessible online for everybody, who wants to have a closer look at both the source map and the final design version on with download links included in the bottom-right. is open for everybody to observe
  • Natalia Makovsky
    Brand strategy
  • Igor Makovsky
    Art direction, designer
  • Katya Antoshkina
    Designer, illustrator
  • Denis Serebryakov
    Type designer
  • Vadim Neganov
    Caring guide and driver
  • Maksim Founder
    Photographer and drone operator
  • Denis Shirshov
    Creator of nikipedia project (closed)
  • Thanks to Andrey Fomenko, Natalia Sidorina and Vladimir Chizhov for help
More projects in Murmanskaya oblast